There seems to be a personality problem with the humble ‘dal’. Dal or ‘daal’, is a Hindi term used for cooked pulses or lentils. Lentils (from legumes) is split and prepared as a stew that goes well with rice or flattened bread, as a staple. There are several variations of the same, as one would travel from region to region (specifically in South Asian countries). Now the problem arises when the ‘dal’ is written and pronounced as ‘dhal’. This is where the personality problem arises.
‘Dhal’, as transcripted from Hindi, means shield. One that is commonly used in warfare. Fancy, engraved and carved ones from history to the ones used by anti-rioting police. So when ‘dhal’ is used, interchangeable for the ‘dal’, it loses its taste; almost literally. Sure some varieties of ‘dal’ are spicy enough to bring an army to its knees as there are others that can win kingdoms.
I feel, if the western world would have termed it as ‘dahl’, it wouldn’t have been much of an issue. Unless Sophie would resist her name becoming a recipe! But when alphabet ‘H’ is conjoined after ‘D’, then phonetically it assumes a heavier broth. The consonant ‘dh’ is a ‘punchy’ one, onomatopoeically speaking, something that is used to denote the base note of the left of the tabla. The other sound is a heavier ‘D’. Native Hindi speakers would understand the usage here. Many languages around the globe, translate heavy sounds into a more fluid phonetics, like the Portuguese are known to do.
Funnily, if ‘H’ is added to the ‘dal’, and kept silent while pronouncing, then I do not see why it is added in the first place! If border-less food ambassadors want to migrate the word for lentils, then use ‘dal’ or at most, ‘daal’.
Phonetically, a ‘dal’ is to be uttered like you would read Dante. You see, the ‘dal’ is no less poetic. It is tough to make a good ‘dal’. It is the simplest thing that I judge most restaurant menus on. It is something that can cement a relationship, if made correctly. On the other hand, the ‘dhal’ is a dull sounding word that takes away from the lustre of this delicious broth.
Therefore, I reject the ‘dhal’ in favour of the ‘dal’. And I would urge the culinary world to see the taste behind the reasoning and favour the seasoning. So, say it with me, ‘dal’.
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There are many who rely on green tea for constructive things it can do against:
Brain stimulation without a caffeine overdrive
I have a colleague who, literally, lives on green tea. Those that are fascinated with green tea seriously, keep images of Oprah Winfrey, Gweneth Paltrow and Madonna in their minds to achieve better metabolism, boost immunity and fight weigh-gain. And then there are many who do not fancy green tea at all but resort to it when they need a free or low-cost ‘Rx’.
We usually, blindly pick on boxed green tea on the shelves of supermarkets. In case, you are in the mood or taste-trajectory of developing and understanding green tea, help is at hand.
I present tea consultant Sanjay Guha. Sanjay is a UK-based leading professional in the tea industry with 40 years of experience in the tea trade. His areas of expertise include tea-tasting, sourcing, buying and blending. Sanjay has built an invaluable international network spanning Asia, Russia, Europe, Africa and the USA, as well as in emerging markets such as Russia and the Middle East. Here’s what he has to say about green tea:
“During my recent visit to India, I found a potential of green tea revolution. The general impression is that green tea is that it is good for health! But most people don’t know enough about tea and more about green tea. Green Tea can be manufactured both steamed and pan-fried methods.The tea can be consumed either hot or cold (keep it in the fridge and when it is cold, enjoy it). Steamed tea has a fresh,invigorating and flavour.The leaves are steamed for 60-120 seconds. Deep steaming involves first steaming of fresh leaves. After cooling, the steamed leaves are dried with heat as they are kneaded and rolled into needle like shape.
Pan-fried tea is made by a very different method. Tea leaves are roasted in an iron pan on high heat which neutralizes the ‘grassiness’ that characterises steamed tea. Roasting makes the leaf tissue firm, giving the tea clear, yellow-green colour. The taste is light and understated.Pan-fried is my favourite.This was first introduced in 1406 in China. Steamed tea was invented by Japanese in 1738 (notes by Amane Takeuchi).
Enjoy your green tea but please do not add sugar.”
For more deep-brewed info on tea and its know-how, visit his webpage www.sanjayguha.com for more.
Aunt closes the big oven door. In a few moments, her airy kitchen is filled with warm, aromatics of the casserole bubbling in there.
“You know, I love such one pot meals,” said I. “Make them regularly at home. I just throw in some thinly sliced zucchini.”
“Oh, you like zucchini?” she said.
And then, I saw a quick blur, as aunt whizzed past me, into her gorgeous home garden in a picturesque village in Nottingham, UK and came back with a long, emerald zucchini. In seconds, it was sliced and popped into the casserole in the oven.
My expression was ‘what just happened’!
Meet Superwoman Sunanda Chatterjee. My wife’s aunt. I have happily adopted her as my aunt. Nicknamed Bumble Bee, she is always buzzing around to make sure everyone is well fed and happy. She’s quite the thing – a qualified doctor by day, consummate home maker and a cook par excellence. Am trying to bully her to write her cook book.
One of the first things I noticed is her well stocked kitchen. There isn’t anything that you cannot find in there. Rosemary powder? Check. German shortbread? Check. Strong roasted coffee? Check. Teas from gardens of the world? Check. Peri Peri sauce? Check. I should have looked harder for a chef’s hat – would have found that too!
The other thing I noticed is her beautiful garden where she grows her English roses, honeysuckles and a bunch of other beautiful flowers whose names escape me. She scaped the garden herself and tends to it regularly. To the left is a fish pond. And farther left, is where she grows her veggies. That ripe zucchini, the one that was bubbling in the oven, came from there. She grows squash, brinjals, tomatoes, pumpkin, potatoes and maize. I am a huge fan of the style and rustic elegance (did I just coin that phrase) of Jamie Oliver. His series on cooking all across Britain using what he could get his hands on, is inspiring, mildly put. This felt just like his show. There are ways to grow a few veggies and making one’s own dry spice mix by sun-drying herbs. My mother used to grow tomatoes, Thai chillies, cucumber. We never had a garden but mum used to grow them in small pots. As a child, I used to be filled with amazement seeing vegetables grow at home. It added perspective as opposed to picking up what you want and when you want from the market. And now, I was in Superwoman’s vegetable garden, reliving my childhood amazement!
A day earlier, she went to another part of her garden and came back with a small basket of hand-picked cherries, raspberries and blueberries! I have never had such raspberries, considering that raspberries and I cannot get along in temperament. In fact, I polished it all off.
I realised exactly what ‘fresh from the garden’ really meant. It doesn’t get fresher than this. The soil and water plays an important role in how your veggies taste. For those that are inspired to start a home garden, here is a quick link, how to: http://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/garden-care/ten-steps-to-beginning-a-garden/. I do peg home gardens as the next level of ‘foodie’ aspiration – to grow your own vegetables, even if they are just chillies. There is a little more fun than picking up a bunch from a plant than from a supermarket.
Why? Why would you orphan the last 10% of your drink? Why would you leave it sitting at the base of your fancy glass like it was never meant to be consumed? It has the same stock as the rest of the drink, yet, it doesn’t find favour with many. Why must you punish the remainder? And for what fault?
I find it discriminating. If you like a drink, slurp it down, right to the last drop. I was once told, during my impressionable years that leaving a bit of your drink is a sign that you are rather well-off. It made an indelible impression on me, till today. Thankfully I never tried showing off my social status by leaving a swig of my drink. If I like the drink, I drink up, my friend. Life’s too short and insipid without a good drink. OK, that may be taking it a bit far although I’m assuming you get my hint.
I have always finished my drink. I have done this for as long as I remember. And there is no embarrassment in sounding like a hoover while sucking a drink in a coffee shop. I might have cause my fellow coffee shop drinkers some cause of shock and dismay. I appreciate their swallowing that surprise with their drink. I might have been the object of aural apathy each time I slurped a cold coffee through a drinking straw. Surprisingly, it has always added to the taste!
I propose that we change this behaviour of leaving residue. Back me on this, my fellow food bloggers and writers, a good drink must meet its fate, right down till the last drop. It was not without a reason that we have the urban adage of ‘bottoms up’. If so, then we have been hypocritical at times by leaving a sad 5mls of drink.
Imagine wearing wooden shoes that weigh 8 kilos to straighten misaligned feet. It is perhaps hard to imagine that this boy, bullied at school because of his inability to run, or for that matter, walk properly would go on to become the pied piper of culinary arts and Michelin-starred chef called Vikas Khanna.
Behind the success and public adulation of being the public figure called Vikas Khanna, lies a resilient, hard-working, disciplined man with a fire in his belly to pursue what his heart desires. Little surprise that his most successful restaurant is called Junoon – translated from Urdu it means obsession or a burning desire. I sat him down in a book store after hosting his book launch to talk more about him. That was after he had signed my copy of World Flavours – My Favourite Kitchen. During the book launch, I grilled him in front of his fans and he took it all on his chin with his trademark ‘Punjabi’ humour. He is a man of his word. He loved the radio interview that my colleague and I conducted a couple of months back when he ‘booked’ us to host his book launch. When his team got in touch with us did we realise that Vikas means what he says. The story he tells everyone is about him starting his own catering business for small local parties. “Imagine opening up in an alley behind the house! Who would have come?” asks an excited Vikas. He was 17 then. Usually, boys that age are riding motorbikes to impress a local Rapunzel on the balcony or buying pimple cream hiding under a baseball cap. From there to the pristine training kitchens in Paris to owning his own in New York, Vikas is testimony to the adage ‘a burning desire’. He lives in New York, runs restaurants, takes time out for philanthropy, researches on food, writes books, is known in the White House, has fed numerous Hollywood stars and cooked for various charities – Vikas is indeed living the American dream. But more importantly, he stands for the courage to dream. Dream – what you want to do – then set out to get that dream to reality.
For a celebrity like him has perhaps given more interviews than Gordon Ramsey has used expletives. He is always prepared with an answer. He is a chef extraordinaire – he can have the toughest of audiences eat out of his hand! With his wit, his humour that still stains Punjabi like turmeric on finger nails, his faulty English which he mercilessly hacks at, Vikas can regale you for hours on end with his stories. In this interview, I wanted to talk to the man behind all this; to get a glimpse of that Vikas, who Khanna protects fiercely. After 25 years of being in the kitchen, Vikas is still as nervous as his first time, when he enters the kitchen. “The anxiety of a dish to taste the same each time gnaws at my heart. There is something spiritual about being in a kitchen and preparing food,” he states. Deep inside, Vikas is loyal to taste and food and it is this very quality of his that makes him a star chef!
Through all that Vikas Khanna says and does, one thing that shines through is his love for family. Any display of familial love can get this “hottest man alive” all misty-eyed. While recuperating from a back problem in NYC, his team asked him if he wanted anything comforting and he asked for his mum’s ‘methi-aloo’ or potatoes made with fenugreek. “I could kill for that dish any day”, coos the chef. Vikas believed that that dish would heal him up completely. That dish means the life to him! If Vikas Khanna could go back in time and meet Vikas Khanna, age 17, what would be the one thing that he would tell him? Vikas’s eyes wrinkled up in a smile and said, “You were the foundation.” As a teenager, he was not worldly-wise. He didn’t calculate risks! He just did what he wanted. Had he sat down to calculate risks, Vikas wouldn’t have been what he is now and he is thankful to that lanky ‘duffer’ teenager. The glossy chef overtakes once in a while but Khanna was very comfortable talking about various things of his life. He mentioned that he picked up culinary terminology like “a zucchini should be tender but firm” and breaks into a syrupy smile. When asked on the kind of task-master he is in the kitchen – tender and firm or hard and cold – Vikas says, “Oh, you will not believe it but I am very tender with my team.” He has a multi-cultural team in his kitchen who he treats with love and respect. “But I cut-in different ways.” He adds naughtily. When it comes to deadlines, this smiling chef can sure add in some heat!
A cook book is a cook book is a cook book. In Chef Vikas Khanna’s case, every cook book is a new story that he is waiting to tell all his fans and followers and anybody who cares to listen. Be it the food that grows and is consumed in the Himalayas by mendicants and mountain-dwellers to pan-India recipes that is made during festivities – Vikas picks out a story to tell. No wonder that this kind soul has dedicated the first chapter of his next project called UTSAV, with an invitation price of INR 8,00,000 ie $12,000/-, to transgenders in India. “Nobody cares about that section of society yet no celebration is complete without a song-dance and blessing from them,” narrates Vikas. Food is a ceremony, food is culture and that story must be retold. Imagine the frustration of a child unable to run! Nobody cared about misaligned feet. Like many other problems, this too added to the list of taboo and was kept in within the family. It was not possible to talk about it openly in society. He was called ‘skeleton’ by all his school mates. He only had his parents as his comfort blanket. Vikas braved a very tough and unimaginable childhood. He told himself that he was meant to be something else that the others will never be. Junoon (or burning persevering idea) at that age? Perhaps. When he saw artful gourmet food for the first time, the teen-aged Vikas was moved to tears, “Main inna sona khana aaj tak ni vekhya” (I haven’t ever seen such beautiful food). It is that same man, who now is whipping out works of art that people consume daily. How does he feel? Vikas swallows, puts back his smile and wishes he could see that same 17 year old walk in to his restaurant to see what he is doing now. He’d be proud. Funny that this successful master-chef was once called a jinx – anything that he touched, closed down. End 2006, Khanna was packing up to go back. Restaurants like Purnima, Tandoor Palace, Spice Route of India had all closed down and he didn’t know what to do. Khanna decided to go to Tibet and live there for some time. He is totally taken by the simplicity and spirituality of His Holiness The Dalai Lama so much so that he is writing a book on him! Khanna understood that to be a good chef, he must connect with the root. Otherwise, one is as good as a burger in a fast-food joint. Nobody remembers the taste after one has gobbled it down. Vikas Khanna speaks about food like a maestro speaks about music and you can clearly see the common grounds. The only book that Vikas has read from cover to cover is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. His brother found the novel in garbage. Vikas read the book and imbibed learnings about life and passion and flight. Training hard makes all the difference. His life is no different than that seagull that was bored of squabbling for daily food and wanted to do something entirely different. While most chefs dream of cooking for royalty and Hollywood stars, Vikas opened his doors for charity through food – Cooking For Life is an initiative that aids various foundations by raising money through food. He gets the food and the chefs and money is raised from various fundraisers right from Amar Jyoti to UNICEF.
“Write me an award like this!” Vikas says, with his eyes flared up with passion. He is a Michelin-starred chef who has picked up numerous awards and will continue doing so. But what he finds most rewarding are the people stories that indicate to him that he is doing the right thing. Like a 90-year old Canadian-Indian who came to Junoon NYC to eat. Vikas was asked to attend to the table as the nonagenarian was all emotional after eating ‘aloo vadey’ or potato croquets. She called for the chef saying that it reminded her of her grand-mother’s cooking! Can there be anything more gratifying than this, asks Vikas. With the interview over, he gets up, gives me a warm hug and walks over to the crowd that welcomes him flash lights and endless selfie requests. Chef Vikas Khanna will never let his audience down. ……………………………………………………………………… Dev J Haldar is the program director of South Asian radio station Suno1024, an academic and a food critic.
Biryani – a name that conjures up a picture perhaps more luscious than any other stereotype possible. Stay with me on this word – BIRYANI – and you can almost smell the multi-hued, aromatic rice, feel the soft and tender meat, and see a subtle riot of historical gastronomy on the plate. See what biryani does to you!
I think biryani is a global cultural connector. You get biryani’s everywhere. You do not go wrong with a biryani party. Everybody has an idea of what a biryani should taste like. Much before the Ray Krocs of the world took over with breads and processed chicken, the world was already annexed by this simple rice and meat dish.
Talking about biryani is like discussing history and current affairs in one go. So I decided to take the help of my chef-friend and culinary consultant to a huge local group Ankur Chakraborty. We met to discuss this over books and hand-written notes. We decided to keep away from the real thing lest we go astray.
Historically speaking, this dish travelled from Iran to the sub-continent, picking up many things on the way and adding to its list of fabled taste. There is a lot to thank the Mughals for, including biryani. Associating biryanis to royal kitchens happened later. Biryani started as a poor man’s dish – think of it – it was an all-in-one pot dish; replete with the right amounts of carbs and proteins. It rose to the ranks of culinary royalty when premium ingredients started being used namely spices like saffron, cardamom and the best cuts of meat. Quality of rice makes a huge difference. Often garnishes consisting of gold or silver leafing added to the stature of this dish. And so biryanis became synonymous for royal dining and feasting, so much so that it tastes ‘different’ if served lackadaisically. Like wine, a biryani needs to be presented in the cradle of opulent tableware; nothing else would do.
Then there is the debate between a biryani and a pulao. Are they the same? Or do they battle for a higher rank depending on geographical region? Ankur explains the 2 as what pulao is to sedan, biryani is to sports car. To translate that, remember what we were taught in school – a rectangle is a square but a square is not a rectangle? OK, wiping the grin off, I would say what makes a biryani is the quintessential layering of rice and meats. The first and last layer in the pot needs to be rice.
India, alone, boasts of the largest kinds of biryani that can be found on earth. This is by no means the complete biryani works. Just scratching the bottom of the earthen pot. Ok, so, let’s wag off the ones that we know:
The Hyderabadi biryani, believed by purists to be the only biryani by culinary DNA, is pretty high on aromatics.
The Awadhi (or the Lucknowi) biryani is richer because of saffron, dry fruits and meat caramelisation. This biryani is ‘assembled’ – the rice and meat is cooked separately and then layered together for a ‘dum’ (steam-cooking).
The Nawabs of Lucknow took shelter in Bengal when displaced and that gave birth to the Calcutta biryani. At first fans will swear by a butter-soft potato and a whole boiled egg that is there in the biryani, the other difference being in the rice used, called Sella.
Then there are biryanis that are very native to cultures, communities and agricultural practices. The Thalessari Kerala biryani made of Khaima rice that is grown in the region.
The Tamil Muslims of Vellore cook up the Vaniyambari biryani that is ‘meatier’ than the usual ratio of meat in a biryani.
The Sindhi biryani is usually higher on the tangy side as they use more tomatoes.
Their community neighbours, the Memoni biryani goes easy on the tomatoes and food colour.
The Kannada Muslims swear by the Beary biryani, that is lighter but the process of cooking is similar to the Lucknowi biryani.
Then you have a Bohri biryani, Kashmiri’s have their version called the Yakhni biryani, the tribal North East parts of India has their version of biryani using mustard leaves and ‘bur’ or rice wine.
Internationally, am sure, you would have tasted or seen the ‘rice and meat’ dish albeit with different names like ‘Kabsa’ or ‘Mandi’ in the Middle East, The ‘Dan Pauk’ from Burma, the ‘Khao Mak’ from Thailand and ‘Zereshk Pulao’ from Iran. It would be ticklish to know that the Mediterranean dish ‘Paella’ also finds place in the biryani clan.
So, to close, biryani is not just a simple rice and meat dish. It is much more than that. The key to it all is the savour the flavour.
I am listing out a few good places for biryani. Feel free to add on your choices in the comments section. Here are my top 5 casual dining restaurants for biryani in Dubai:
Gazebo – multiple locations, multiple biryani options. They do not usually go wrong with their biryanis.
Appa Kadai – I love their Chettinad and Hyderabadi versions.
Pak Liyari (Naif, Deira) – for what it was worth braving the traffic and finding a table to eat, the tasty biryani soothed all troubles away
Student Biryani – tasty but very oily
Biryani Pot at Dubai Mall – hate biryanis served in food courts. This one stood out!
This is Ankur’s top 5 fine-dine biryani destinations in Dubai:
Rang Mahal by Atul Kochar – for Hyderabadi Gosht ki Biryani
Ashiana by Vineet Bhatia (Sheraton Creek Deira) – Kolambi Bhat: it’s a seafood and scallops with coconut rice preparation in a biryani style
Ushna’s Abu Dhabi (Qaryat Al Beri) – Jumbo prawn biryani
Qureshi’s at Country Club Dubai – dum gosht biryani!
Indigo (Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi) – tandoori prawns biryani
It is a tough act to get me out of my personal space on a weekend. But when the subjects are ‘Kings of Kitchen’ and sources of inspiration, it is certainly worth the trouble. And so, on a weekend, 4 boys met up whose lives are ruled by the “F-word” – FOOD.
My colleague and I were delighted to welcome master chefs Ranveer Brar and Michelin-starred Vikas Khanna. Both, tall, dark and handsome with brooding looks. Do not be fooled by that tough, stern exterior; for lurking behind those piercing eyes, bubbles some serious wit and Punjabi humour. Greeting everybody with a Cheshire cat grin was Chef Ranveer Brar, looking very dapper in his ochre trousers and jacket.
Vikas walked in clutching his Macbook, almost as if we would confiscate it. He confessed his commitments on both sides of the Atlantic. A stickler for deadlines, Vikas is known to spend a lot of time on his laptop so that he can stay connected with his team, publishers and others that matter.
Of his myriad projects, Vikas is working on 2 books. One, he claims to be the costliest book ever that encapsulates 12 years of his work. And the other is a book that is dedicated to his inspiration, His Holiness The Dalai Lama. As the world leader of peace turns 80, Vikas has posed 80 questions to The Dalai Lama that his fans routed through the chef. Vikas has met His Holiness 16 times.
Chef Vikas Khanna is extremely popular on social media. Blame it on his meteoric rise, being labelled the ‘sexiest man’ or the ‘hottest chef’ or the fact that at 43, he still retains his boyish charms and can be called a ‘beeba munda’ in Punjabi. Women swoon at the mere mention of Vikas Khanna. His colleague, Chef Ranveer Brar was quick to point out that the
number of women on Twitter with Vikas as their display picture is perhaps more than that of Brad Pitt. And their staunch following can only be believed when you try it. Write out a tweet @TheVikasKhanna and watch it go viral! While Ranveer took jabs, Vikas only kept smiling coyly! Here are some quick takes:
Chef Ranveer Brar started a Franco-Asian restaurant in Boston called ‘Banq’. A clever name, if you ask me! Ranveer’s only regret is that he could not cook for his grandmother. As a boy, Ranveer used to ask his sister to hold a make-believe microphone as he would practice ‘hosting’ his TV show watching Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s TV shows.
Vikas Khanna was once asked to smile several times by a 70-year-old woman who thought his smile was similar to her deceased son’s. She lost her son in a car crash. Vikas, thereafter, promised to always smile. If possible, Vikas would love to open up a Tibetan food stall in Dubai. His obvious inspiration comes the land and people that gave him refuge when he lost all his restaurants. Vikas always wanted to open a restaurant in Paris but the process is rather back-breaking. Now with his NY restaurant Junoon opening a branch in Dubai, he seems to have happily settled for ‘marhaba’ than ‘merci’!
Vikas and Ranveer are happy that a chef is now readily accepted as a profession. Otherwise, people only cared to ask for the chef on 2 occasions – either to complain of excessive salt or to ask where the bathroom is! To hear the madness that enfolded in the studio, listen to the interview podcast here: http://www.suno1024.com/podcast-list/albums/69